Books that Stanford historians recommend

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The Restless Clock

by Jessica Riskin

About the book:  Today, a scientific explanation is not meant to ascribe agency to natural phenomena: we would not say a rock falls because it seeks the center of the earth. Even for living things, in the natural sciences and often in the social sciences, the same is true. A modern botanist would not say that plants pursue sunlight. This has not always been the case, nor, perhaps, was it inevitable. Since the seventeenth century, many thinkers have made agency, in various forms, central to science. The Restless Clock examines the history of this principle, banning agency, in the life sciences. It also tells the story of dissenters embracing the opposite idea: that agency is essential to nature. The story begins with the automata of early modern Europe, as models for the new science of living things, and traces questions of science and agency through Descartes, Leibniz, Lamarck, and Darwin, among many others. Mechanist science, Jessica Riskin shows, had an associated theology: the argument from design, which found evidence for a designer in the mechanisms of nature. Rejecting such appeals to a supernatural God, the dissenters sought to naturalize agency rather than outsourcing it to a “divine engineer.” Their model cast living things not as passive but as active, self-making machines. The conflict between passive- and active-mechanist approaches maintains a subterranean life in current science, shaping debates in fields such as evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. This history promises not only to inform such debates, but also our sense of the possibilities for what it means to engage in science—and even what it means to be alive.

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Partners of the Empire

by Ali Yaycioglu

About the book:  Partners of Empire offers a radical rethinking of the Ottoman Empire in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Over this unstable period, the Ottoman Empire faced political crises, institutional shakeups, and popular insurrections. It responded through various reform options and settlements. New institutional configurations emerged; constitutional texts were codified—and annulled. The empire became a political theater where different actors struggled, collaborated, and competed on conflicting agendas and opposing interests. This book takes a holistic look at the era, interested not simply in central reforms or in regional developments, but in their interactions. Drawing on original archival sources, Ali Yaycioglu uncovers the patterns of political action—the making and unmaking of coalitions, forms of building and losing power, and expressions of public opinion. Countering common assumptions, he shows that the Ottoman transformation in the Age of Revolutions was not a linear transition from the old order to the new, from decentralized state to centralized, from Eastern to Western institutions, or from pre-modern to modern. Rather, it was a condensed period of transformation that counted many crossing paths, as well as dead-ends, all of which offered a rich repertoire of governing possibilities to be followed, reinterpreted, or ultimately forgotten.

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Reading Rio de Janeiro

by Zephyr Frank

About the book:  "Reading Rio de Janeiro" is an experiment in literary and social history, which combines literary analysis and the tools of close and distant reading with quantitative evidence from archival sources in order to reveal new insights regarding the integration of individuals into a complex and changing society.

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Workers and Thieves

by Joel Beinin

About the book:  The book describes the central role of workers and the unemployed in the run up to and the aftermath of the popular uprisings of 2011 in Tunisia and Egypt.

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Afghan Modern

by Robert D. Crews

About the book:  Rugged, remote, riven by tribal rivalries and religious violence, Afghanistan seems to many a forsaken country frozen in time. Robert Crews presents a bold challenge to this misperception. During their long history, Afghans have engaged and connected with a wider world, occupying a pivotal position in the Cold War and the decades that followed.

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Polyandry and Wife-Selling in Qing Dynasty China

by Matthew H. Sommer

About the book:  This book is a study of polyandry, wife-selling, and a variety of related practices in China during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). By analyzing over 1200 legal cases from local and central court archives, Matthew Sommer explores the functions played by marriage, sex, and reproduction in the survival strategies of the rural poor under conditions of overpopulation, worsening sex ratios, and shrinking farm sizes. Polyandry and wife-selling represented opposite ends of a spectrum of strategies. At one end, polyandry was a means to keep the family together by expanding it. A woman would bring in a second husband in exchange for his help supporting her family. In contrast, wife sale was a means to survive by breaking up a family: a husband would secure an emergency infusion of cash while his wife would escape poverty and secure a fresh start with another man. Even though Qing law prohibited both practices under the rubric "illicit sexual relations," Sommer shows how magistrates charged with propagating and enforcing a fundamentalist Confucian vision of female chastity tried to cope with their social reality in the face of daunting poverty. This contradiction illuminates both the pragmatism of routine adjudication and the increasingly dysfunctional nature of the dynastic state in the face of mounting social crisis. By casting a spotlight on the rural poor and the experiences of both men and women, Sommer provides an alternative to the standard paradigms of women’s history that have long dominated scholarship on gender and sexuality in late imperial China.

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Radical Equality

by Aishwary Kumar

About the book:  B.R. Ambedkar, the architect of India's constitution, and Indian nationalist M.K. Gandhi, the two figures whose policies and legacies have most contributed to Indian democracy, are typically considered antagonists who held irreconcilable views of empire and political and social reform. As such, they are rarely studied together. This book reassesses their complex relationship, focusing on what it identifies as a mutual commitment to unconditional equality as inseparable from the struggle for sovereignty. These two major nonwestern thinkers inherited the concept of equality from Western humanism, but their ideas mark a radical turn in secular and humanist conceptions of politics. This history of their encounter traces the philosophical foundations of their thought in Indian and Western traditions, both religious and secular. But more than a study of an encounter,Radical Equality explores the paradoxes and risks of democracy in modern political thought. It is particularly attentive to slippages whereby their militant demands for egalitarian justice are compromised or contradicted by their own moral practices, and where the language of nonviolence lapses into that of force or sacrifice. Excavating the intellectual kinship of Ambedkar and Gandhi, Aishwary Kumar allows them to shed light on each other, even as he places them within a global constellation of moral political thinkers (Rousseau, Dewey, Marx, Nietzsche). The story of their struggle against inequality, violence, and empire thus transcends national boundaries and unfolds within a broader twentieth-century history of ideas.

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Fateful Ties

by Gordon H. Chang

About the book:  Americans look to China with fascination and fear, unsure whether it is friend or foe but certain it will play a crucial role in their future. This is nothing new, Gordon Chang says. Fateful Ties draws on literature, art, biography, popular culture, and politics to trace America’s long and varied preoccupation with China.

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Burned Bridge

by Edith Sheffer

About the book:  The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 shocked the world. Ever since, the image of this impenetrable barrier between East and West, imposed by communism, has been a central symbol of the Cold War. Based on vast research in untapped archival, oral, and private sources, Burned Bridge reveals the hidden origins of the Iron Curtain, presenting it in a startling new light. Historian Edith Sheffer's unprecedented, in-depth account focuses on Burned Bridge-the intersection between two sister cities, Sonneberg and Neustadt bei Coburg, Germany's largest divided population outside Berlin. Sheffer demonstrates that as Soviet and American forces occupied each city after the Second World War, townspeople who historically had much in common quickly formed opposing interests and identities. The border walled off irreconcilable realities: the differences of freedom and captivity, rich and poor, peace and bloodshed, and past and present. Sheffer describes how smuggling, kidnapping, rape, and killing in the early postwar years led citizens to demand greater border control on both sides--long before East Germany fortified its 1,393 kilometer border with West Germany. It was in fact the American military that built the first barriers at Burned Bridge, which preceded East Germany's borderland crackdown by many years. Indeed, Sheffer shows that the physical border between East and West was not simply imposed by Cold War superpowers, but was in some part an improvised outgrowth of an anxious postwar society. Ultimately, a wall of the mind shaped the wall on the ground. East and West Germans became part of, and helped perpetuate, the barriers that divided them. From the end of World War II through two decades of reunification, Sheffer traces divisions at Burned Bridge with sharp insight and compassion, presenting a stunning portrait of the Cold War on a human scale.

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A Chosen Exile

by Allyson Hobbs

About the book:  Countless African Americans have passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and communities. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile. This history of passing explores the possibilities, challenges, and losses that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions.

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Packaged Pleasures

by Gary S. Cross,Robert N. Proctor

About the book:  "In Packaged Pleasures, Gary S. Cross and Robert N. Proctor delve into an uncharted chpater of American history, shedding new light on the origins of modern consumer culture and how technologies have transformed human sensory experience"--Provided by publsher.

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Early Modern Things

by Paula Findlen

About the book:  What can we learn about the past by studying things? How does the meaning of things, and our relationship to them, change over time? This fascinating collection taps a rich vein of recent scholarship to explore a variety of approaches to the material culture of the early modern world (c.1500-1800). Divided into six parts this book explores; the ambiguity of things, representing things, making things, empires of things, consuming things and lastly the power of things. Spanning across the early modern world, from Ming dynasty China to Georgian England, and from Ottoman Egypt to Spanish America, the authors provide a generous set of examples in how to study the circulation, use, consumption and, most fundamentally, the nature of things themselves. Drawing on a broad range of disciplinary perspectives and lavishly illustrated, Early Modern Things supplies fresh and provocative insights into how objects – ordinary and extraordinary, secular and sacred, natural and man-made – came to define some of the key developments of the early modern world. This book will be essential reading for all those interested in the early modern world.

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Documenting Intimate Matters

by Thomas A. Foster

About the book:  Over time, sexuality in America has changed dramatically. Frequently redefined and often subject to different systems of regulation, it has been used as a means of control; it has been a way to understand ourselves and others; and it has been at the center of fierce political storms, including some of the most crucial changes in civil rights in the last decade. Edited by Thomas A. Foster, Documenting Intimate Matters features seventy-two documents that collectively highlight the broad diversity inherent in the history of American sexuality. Complementing the third edition of Intimate Matters, by John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman—often hailed as the definitive survey of sexual history in America—the multiple narratives presented by these documents reveal the complexity of this subject in US history. The historical moments captured in this volume will show that, contrary to popular misconception, the history of sexuality is not a simple story of increased freedoms and sexual liberation, but an ongoing struggle between change and continuity.

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In God's Empire

by Owen White

About the book:  A collection of thirteen essays by leading scholars in the field, In God's Empire examines the complex ways in which the spread of Christianity by French men and women shaped local communities, French national prowess, and global politics in the two centuries following the French Revolution. More than a story of religious proselytism, missionary activity was an essential feature of French contact and interaction with local populations. In many parts of the world, missionaries were the first French men and women to work and live among indigenous societies. For all the celebration of France's secular "civilizing mission," it was more often than not religious workers who actually fulfilled the daily tasks of running schools, hospitals, and orphanages. While their work was often tied to small villages, missionaries' interactions had geopolitical implications. Focusing on many regions--from the Ottoman Empire and the United States to Indochina and the Pacific Ocean--this book explores how France used missionaries' long connections with local communities as a means of political influence and justification for colonial expansion. In God's Empire offers readers both an overview of the major historical dimensions of the French evangelical enterprise, as well as an introduction to the theoretical and methodological challenges of placing French missionary work within the context of European, colonial, and religious history.

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Under the Drones

by Shahzad Bashir

About the book:  Western media coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan paints a simplistic picture of ageless barbarity, terrorist safe havens, and peoples in need of either punishment or salvation. Under the Drones looks beyond this limiting view to investigate real people on the ground, and analyze the political, social, and economic forces that shape their lives.

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Gusto for Things

by Renata Ago

About the book:  We live in a material world—our homes are filled with things, from electronics to curios and hand-me-downs, that disclose as much about us and our aspirations as they do about current trends. But we are not the first: the early modern period was a time of expanding consumption, when objects began to play an important role in defining gender as well as social status. Gusto for Things reconstructs the material lives of seventeenth-century Romans, exploring new ways of thinking about the meaning of things as a historical phenomenon. Through creative use of account books, inventories, wills, and other records, Renata Ago examines early modern attitudes toward possessions, asking what people did with their things, why they wrote about them, and how they passed objects on to their heirs. While some inhabitants of Rome were connoisseurs of the paintings, books, and curiosities that made the city famous, Ago shows that men and women of lesser means also filled their homes with a more modest array of goods. She also discovers the genealogies of certain categories of things—for instance, books went from being classed as luxury goods to a category all their own—and considers what that reveals about the early modern era. An animated investigation into the relationship between people and the things they buy, Gusto for Things paints an illuminating portrait of the meaning of objects in preindustrial Europe.

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Trafficking in Slavery’s Wake

by Benjamin N. Lawrance

About the book:  Women and children have been bartered, pawned, bought, and sold within and beyond Africa for longer than records have existed. This important collection examines the ways trafficking in women and children has changed from the aftermath of the “end of slavery” in Africa from the late nineteenth century to the present. The formal abolition of the slave trade and slavery did not end the demand for servile women and children. Contemporary forms of human trafficking are deeply interwoven with their historical precursors, and scholars and activists need to be informed about the long history of trafficking in order to better assess and confront its contemporary forms. This book brings together the perspectives of leading scholars, activists, and other experts, creating a conversation that is essential for understanding the complexity of human trafficking in Africa. Human trafficking is rapidly emerging as a core human rights issue for the twenty-first century. Trafficking in Slavery’s Wake is excellent reading for the researching, combating, and prosecuting of trafficking in women and children. Contributors: Margaret Akullo, Jean Allain, Kevin Bales, Liza Stuart Buchbinder, Bernard K. Freamon, Susan Kreston, Benjamin N. Lawrance, Elisabeth McMahon, Carina Ray, Richard L. Roberts, Marie Rodet, Jody Sarich, and Jelmer Vos.

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In God's Empire

by Owen White

About the book:  A collection of thirteen essays by leading scholars in the field, In God's Empire examines the complex ways in which the spread of Christianity by French men and women shaped local communities, French national prowess, and global politics in the two centuries following the French Revolution. More than a story of religious proselytism, missionary activity was an essential feature of French contact and interaction with local populations. In many parts of the world, missionaries were the first French men and women to work and live among indigenous societies. For all the celebration of France's secular "civilizing mission," it was more often than not religious workers who actually fulfilled the daily tasks of running schools, hospitals, and orphanages. While their work was often tied to small villages, missionaries' interactions had geopolitical implications. Focusing on many regions--from the Ottoman Empire and the United States to Indochina and the Pacific Ocean--this book explores how France used missionaries' long connections with local communities as a means of political influence and justification for colonial expansion. In God's Empire offers readers both an overview of the major historical dimensions of the French evangelical enterprise, as well as an introduction to the theoretical and methodological challenges of placing French missionary work within the context of European, colonial, and religious history.

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Golden Holocaust

by Robert N. Proctor

About the book:  The cigarette is the deadliest artifact in the history of human civilization. It is also one of the most beguiling, thanks to more than a century of manipulation at the hands of tobacco industry chemists. In Golden Holocaust, Robert N. Proctor draws on reams of formerly-secret industry documents to explore how the cigarette came to be the most widely-used drug on the planet, with six trillion sticks sold per year. He paints a harrowing picture of tobacco manufacturers conspiring to block the recognition of tobacco-cancer hazards, even as they ensnare legions of scientists and politicians in a web of denial. Proctor tells heretofore untold stories of fraud and subterfuge, and he makes the strongest case to date for a simple yet ambitious remedy: a ban on the manufacture and sale of cigarettes.

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Brokers of Empire

by Jun Uchida

About the book:  Jun Uchida draws on previously unused materials in multi-language archives to uncover the obscured history of the Japanese civilians who settled in Korea between 1876 and 1945, with particular focus on the first generation of "pioneers" between the 1910s and 1930s who actively mediated Japan's colonial presence on the Korean peninsula.

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